When you’re a teacher, there's a lot of collegiate support, but as a principal at a small school, I don't have an assistant principal or a leadership team to talk with. The union understood the need for that support from the start, and made the effort to visit and phone.
As a principal in a small, rural school you can be quite isolated, and really busy. All principals are busy, but often in smaller schools, we’re teaching as well, plus we often end up doing things like taking the bins out and fixing the gutters! So it's even more important for us to have union support.
In my first week of working here as the principal, I had a visit from one of the AEU principal organisers. I was pretty lucky because that person used to be the principal at St Andrews, so they’d actually done my job! Not only did I feel supported, but they were also able to show me where a few things were in the cupboards!
When I've needed information or advice, it’s been invaluable to have the AEU principal organisers at the end of the phone, working around my time frame. They’ve put effort into building the relationship, they understand who I am and the context of my school. They get it.
When you’re a teacher, you're working with your colleagues, you've got your union rep, there's a lot more collegiate support. But as a new principal at a small school, you don’t necessarily have those networks. I don't have an assistant principal or a leadership team to talk with. So it was really great that the union understood the need for that support from the start, and made the effort to visit and phone and get to know me.
The union was also a huge support when I went through excess staffing processes. The department’s funding model can be crippling for small schools if your staff members are at the top of their band. It might only take two families to move away, and suddenly you’re in a huge deficit situation.
That's what happened here. We had declining numbers related to Black Saturday and changing demographics, and we were going to be in deficit by $50,000. The thing is, excess staffing in a rural school is about people's livelihood. This town is where they live, and it’s hard to find other teaching jobs locally. So it's not as easy as just saying, “Sorry, we're top heavy – someone’s got to go.”
The union helped me work through that, and gave me confidence that I was giving the correct information to staff. I found that even though the education department had resources, it didn’t really put people into the equation. The union really helped me to do that.
I'm now involved in a local network of small school principals who meet fairly regularly to discuss issues relating to our schools. The AEU organisers understand that as principals from smaller schools, and being a bit isolated, we find it harder to get to places and to find time to leave our schools, so they often come to our meetings to deliver information or to help us address issues.
That’s a big part of what union membership means to me – being part of a collective working toward the betterment of children's education and our profession as a whole. I’ve actively chosen to work in the public sector, and I've actively chosen to be a union member, to be part of not only that collective bargaining power, but also that collective consciousness. No matter where you teach or what your role is, we’re all in this together.